April 13, 2020
Thine is the glory,
risen, conqu'ring Son;
endless is the vict'ry
thou o'er death hast won!
Lo, Jesus meets thee,
risen from the tomb!
Lovingly he greets thee,
scatters fear and gloom;
let his church with gladness
hymns of triumph sing,
for the Lord now liveth;
death hath lost its sting! Refrain
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #376]
The readings for April 19, 2019, the Second Sunday of Easter, are as follows:
I imagine that those of you who are involved in worship planning for your congregations are perhaps even more exhausted this Monday than you would have been after a "normal" Holy Week. From everything that I witnessed, this past week was the most challenging you can recall.
However, let me be the first to commend you for a job well done. Every broadcast that I saw was unique, and proclaimed the Gospel in its own way. I felt blessed by everything I witnessed.
Well done, good and faithful servants!
All that being said, I still missed the in-person fellowship, and the joy of being gathered together in one mass of humanity, to belt out one of the glorious Easter hymns, to smell the lilies that would typically adorn many of our chancels.
And on the personal, human side of me, I missed our usual Easter Sunday dinner outing at my favorite local restaurant. Ordering take-out was not my idea of an enjoyable afternoon. As I drove to pick up our order, I couldn't help but notice that the vineyards seemed bare, as if even they felt something was missing.
The Gospel for this coming Second Sunday of Easter is the same every year. So many years of hearing the same story has perhaps numbed some of us to the point that we gloss over the account because we've heard it so many times before. But this year, as we enter into our fourth week of lockdown, it's easy to relate to what Jesus' disciples were feeling that Easter evening, locked away in a room out of fear.
This year, I'm wondering as I've never wondered before, why Thomas wasn't with them when Jesus first appeared. Perhaps, like many of us, he was simply tired of sitting around being afraid. Because, let's face it, we are all afraid - afraid of, among other things, coming close to anyone for fear of contracting the virus. And yet, one of the most frequent phrases we read in Scripture directs us to do the opposite. "Do not be afraid," we hear over and over again.
It's pure speculation on my part, but Thomas in today's society would have been among those who still think the virus is a hoax. Read his reaction at hearing the excitement of the other disciples when they told him, "We have seen the Lord."
Thomas, the skeptic, defiantly says, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
This leads me to another point which I'm grappling with in this fourth week of stay at home. What did the disciples do in that week in between Jesus' appearances? Did they remain sheltered in place? And why did Jesus wait a whole week to appear to them again? Where was he in the meantime?
I raise these questions and Scripture is silent on the answers. I calm my curiosity by telling myself not to get bogged down in the details. But still, I wonder.
It is only in the Gospel of John that we hear extensively of the interactions between Thomas and Jesus.
A few weeks ago, we heard the story of the raising of Lazarus (Chapter 11). It was there that Thomas said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go [to Bethany], that we may die with him."
When I read that sentence this year, I sensed a sarcasm that I don't recall feeling before. It's hard to tell because the written word doesn't transmit feelings quite so clearly.
And in one of the readings that we hear most often at funerals, John 14:1-6, Thomas asks the question that sets up one of Jesus' most quoted replies. Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
There's a tone of challenge in Thomas' question that, in previous readings, I've not really picked up on. As preachers, we tend to skip the question because we're too focused on trying to explain Jesus' answer. We see the question merely as a way to present the real purpose of the narrative.
So this week, I will have Thomas on my mind. It could be the effects of too many weeks of sitting at home, or, it could be God's way of channeling my restlessness into finding comfort in God's word.
In my quest for answers, this week's commentary on Working Preacher, by Luther Seminary professor Cameron Howard struck a chord. She remarked that in Thomas' words she did not hear impertinence, she hears lament. And just as Thomas demanded to see the marks of the nails in Jesus' hands and side, Howard feels, like, I believe, many of us, "I think it is time we demand that God show up and bring our pandemic-weary world some resurrection hope."
I couldn't agree more.
On Easter Sunday morning I received the news of the death of the Rev. Nnditsheni E. Khodoga, Bishop of the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, the companion synod of the Northeastern Ohio Synod.
Bishop Khodoga was elected in April of 2018. We had received news of his illness in late March of this year. We ask that you keep his family, and the Northern Diocese of the ELCSA in your prayers.
When I visited South Africa in May of 2016, the Rev. Khodoga was Assistant to the Bishop (General Secretary), SWS Sihlangu. We had developed plans to enhance the relationship between the two synods. Visa issues that hindered travel between the two countries put a hold on those plans. Now, they will hopefully be revived by two new bishops in both our synod and theirs.
The staff of former Bishop SWS Sihlangu in 2016. Rev. Khodoga is standing.
The consecration of Bishop Khodoga in July of 2018.
We pray this week for those affected by the Coronavirus and all who grieve the losses of those who have succumbed to the illness.
God of all grace, we give you thanks because by his death our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed the power of death and by his resurrection he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Make us certain that because he lives we shall live also, and that neither death nor life, nor things present nor things to come, will be able to separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende